Stefani White has practised in the area of local government and planning law and is an experienced author. She is the editor of Planning & Development Service NSW, and also edits Dale’s Local Government Index, the Local Government and Environmental Reports of Australia (LGERA), and Local Government Law and Practice. She is well informed of all developments in planning law. Here, Stefani White gives her initial views of the proposed major shake-up of the planning system in NSW.
The review of the present system of planning in NSW by the Hon Tim Moore and the Hon Ron Dyer (The Way Ahead for Planning in NSW: Recommendations of the NSW Planning System Review) argues that it focusses on the assessment of individual projects with little regard for long-term strategic planning, leaving builders, developers and home renovators frustrated by delays and uncertainties. It says that the development appraisal process means that residents and communities engage with the shape of their neighbourhoods or districts in a reactive way only – usually as objectors to unwelcome proposals. The review links inflated housing costs and inadequate housing choice to the failure of the present system. The report suggests that public confidence in the approvals process, as perceived as being tainted by money and influence, is very low.
The answer offered in the just released White Paper, A New Planning System for NSW, is community participation. The White Paper response to the concerns expressed above is to bring about profound and sweeping change to the present system by offering the community, business and government the opportunity to be involved in the formulation of plans by engaging in an informed dialogue to develop a shared view of what is acceptable development. At a local level, this will include controls on matters that often cause neighbour disputes, such as overlooking and overshadowing. When the plan-making process is complete, applications for developments that do not come within the agreed limits will be rejected. Proposals that are borderline, or have substantial social, economic or environmental impacts, will be considered by the local authority or an expert panel. Design and mapping software will enable visualisation of future developments and precincts.
The hope is that this early engagement of residents and others at the plan-making stage, as set out in the White Paper, will result in a simpler system, with 80% of development proposals becoming complying or code assessable within five years. However, the flip side is that, in most cases, residents “will be notified for information” only. They will not be invited to express a view on, object to or seek modifications to a development proposal. Projects that comply with the agreed rules and standards will be approved within 25 days – or 10 days if they are “straightforward”.
The White Paper proposes a four-tier, interlocking, strategic plans structure: the existing (70+) State Environmental Planning Policies will be replaced with up to 12 NSW Planning Policies, containing principles and policies on matters of state strategic planning including infrastructure, development assessment, environment, housing, jobs and agriculture. These NSW Planning Policies will sit at the apex of the strategic plans structure.
Underneath the NSW Planning Policies will be Regional Growth Plans and Subregional Delivery Plans. Regional Growth Plans will focus on integrated infrastructure and land use decisions, while Subregional Delivery Plans will identify precincts and locations of significance to the state and the subregion, presumably similar to the approach being taken in Strategic Regional Land Use Plans. Subregional Delivery Plans will be developed through state and local government representatives on Subregional Planning Boards.
The implementation of the new legislation and development of the four layers of plans recognised in the new strategic planning framework, may result in the continuation of many elements of the current planning system for several years at least.
As the reforms are far reaching, the state government concedes that it will take considerable time to implement. The government acknowledges that some elements of the reforms will not be in place when the new legislation commences, eg the White Paper states that the target for completion of Subregional Delivery Plans is within two years after the commencement of the new legislation.
In this context, the transitional provisions that will govern that period are of critical importance; however, no detail is provided in the White Paper reforms about transitional arrangements.
Currently, the Standard Instrument for a Local Environmental Plan contains multiple zones for a particular use. While Local Plans will provide for the standardisation of planning controls through standard land use definitions and standard zones to be applied state-wide, the existing zones within the Standard Instrument will be replaced with 13 “indicative zones” in the Local Plans.
Design and mapping software enabling visualisation should assist the community to negotiate with developers and government.
Councils will have to prepare a Community Participation Charter, enshrined in the legislation, for strategic planning and development assessment; likewise, most planning authorities must prepare a Community Participation Plan. These will be prepared on the basis of Community Participation Guidelines prepared by the Department.
Model development guides will be included in Local Plans for councils that do not develop their own Community Participation Plan.
The White Paper also contains proposals to change building regulation and certification. These changes would be designed to increase confidence in the quality and safety of buildings and to provide better direction and support to the NSW building sector.
Stefani White, Editor Planning & Development Service NSW
Planning & Development Service NSW will be responding to this major change by providing comprehensive commentary and guidance on these potential changes. Other Thomson Reuters’ services will also be following these changes closely, including Planning Law in Australia, Building Service NSW and Environmental Responsibilities Law NSW. Stay tuned!